France has a wonderful, reliable and on-time rail system that will get you almost anywhere, but it can be confusing and daunting for a first-timer. Follow these France rail tips to avoid problems (or a missed train).
Time Required: Depends on where you are traveling by rail...
- Know the France rail timetables and prices. You can find them online or many travel agents have them. When you are planning a trip, be sure the train runs at the time AND day you plan to go, and always have a backup later train ride to take.
- When you get to the station, it is great to look for helpers. Even many mid-sized or even small stations have someone standing next to a big "i" sign. Usually, that person speaks English.
- You can buy your tickets either at the machines in the station (which are computerized and very simple to use) or by standing in line. Be sure you are in the correct line. There are usually different lines for local or long-distance travel.
- Buy your rail tickets and inspect them closely. Sometimes, there is no time designated (if you do not need a reservation).
- Be sure you can find the correct platform, called "quai" on your ticket and signs in the station. Locate it well before the train is scheduled to leave.
- Ahead of time, take any food or drinks you will need for the entire trip. While there is a romantic notion about French cafe train cars, MANY (even overnight trains) have no food car.
- Go to the platform several minutes before it is scheduled to leave. French trains wait for no one! Do not be late, or you will miss the train.
- Be sure you know enough basic French to decifer these signs and other info you will see in the stations.
- Be sure you have gotten a reservation if it is for popular trains. (For instance, the TGV speed train requires it). Reservations cost more.
- Take some change with you. Sometimes you can find pretty cool snacks (like Madelines) in the vending machines on the rail platforms.
What You Need
- Rail pass